Is it possible to socially distance on our beaches?

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With many international travel restrictions still in place, more people than ever will be opting for ‘staycations’ in Northern Ireland. This article provides the results of a spatial analysis looking at whether social distancing is possible on some of our most popular beaches.

The results were calculated using a mapping software and creating socially distant bubbles across the area of the beach. Each bubble has a 1m radius and is designed to house one individual. A 2m space between each bubble was also incorporated into the analysis to allow for freedom of movement as people navigate between sea and shore, towel and ice-cream. The method was taken from a recent ESRI UK analysis on British beaches.

The area of the beach to be studied was taken from Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland (OSNI) ground cover data and included the intertidal zone. The expanse of Portrush’s West Strand that was analysed, as well as a sampling of the socially distant bubbles, can be seen in Figure 1.

A map showing an analysis of West Strand in Portrush
An analysis of West Strand in Portrush, which has a capacity of 4797 people

The results of other popular Northern Ireland beaches are below.


Beach Capacity
Portstewart 29,310
Benone (including Downhill) 93,333
Murlough 184,430
Portrush (West Strand) 4797
Whiterocks 8034
Castlerock 11,929
Ballycastle 3718
Helen’s Bay 1349
Tyrella 69,157
Cranfield 2511

Table 1: The capacity of some our popular beaches, taking into account social distancing guidance


We also examined a somewhat larger beach, at Murlough in County Down.

A map showing an analysis of Murlough beach in County Down
Murlough Beach in County Down, which has a capacity of 184,430 people

With most beaches now open to the public, the NI Executive encourages people to enjoy their natural surroundings but to adhere to social distancing and continue to practice good hand hygiene. They ask you to choose quiet locations, quiet times, to keep roads clear for locals and emergency services and to take your litter home with you. For more information please visit NI Direct.